Learning to water ski recreationally is one thing, but competitive water skiing is something else entirely; it almost appears to be a different sport.

“It’s been called the most intense 16 seconds in sports,” Bruce Epstein said.

Sixteen seconds is about how long it takes to get through the 850-foot course at the top speed in competitive water skiing: 36 mph.

And that’s just the speed of the boat. As skiers zip back and forth across the boat’s wake they’re actually traveling much faster — around 65 mph.

Making the sport even more difficult — and entertaining — is the fact that instead of two skis, competitive water skiing is done on a single ski that hugs both your feet.

Under the supervision of several judges, one who rides in the pulling boat, the sport is done on a slalom course. Like its mountain counterpart skiers have to hit a starting gate, carve around buoys a certain way and hit the exit gate at the end.

Each buoy is roughly 38 feet to the side of the centerline of the course, and there are 135 feet between each of the six buoys.

Not every pass is done at 36 mph, as skiers can build up to that speed over the course of a competition, and the rope also gets progressively shorter as the day goes on. A shorter rope makes for a harder and faster transition from side to side as skiers arc around each of the buoys.

Skiers often take each turn using a single-hand grip, laying out nearly horizontal to the water before snapping back up to fly across the water to the next gate.

Speeding through a slalom course is just one way to navigate the surface of the water; there’s also trick skiing and jumping.

From the American Water Ski Association:

“The tricks event has been described as the most technical of the three events. Beginners perform this event on two short skis, and intermediate to elite athletes perform on one short ski. An athlete attempts to perform as many tricks as he or she can during two 20-second passes. … Tricks are performed either with an athlete’s foot slipped into a strap attached to the handle, called toehold tricks, or with the handle held in the athlete’s hands.

“The object of the jumping event is for an athlete to jump as far as he can. There are no style points. Just pop off of the ramp and fly!”

Each year, the Green Mountain Water Skiers Club hosts a national qualifier and state championship slalom event at Wrightsville Reservoir in Washington County. On Aug. 24, 15 different state champions across several age divisions were crowned at the Alan Rossi and Tom Costello Memorial Championship.

To learn more or find out how to get involved with the local club: greenmountainwaterskiers.com.

— Andrew Martin

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